Stoneheart, the first book in the Stoneheart trilogy by Charlie Fletcher features a cast of three main characters. George, a 12 year old boy, has a hard home life. His father died in a car accident, his mother is a self-absorbed actress who is physically and emotionally absent most of the time, and he’s a social outcast at school. When he gets unfairly blamed for an accident on a school field trip, he lashes out by breaking the head off a stone dragon carved on the outside of the museum. And then the pterodactyl carved next to the dragon comes to life and starts chasing him.
George has dropped into UnLondon, and into the middle of an ongoing war between the taints — the statues of gargoyles and monsters and such — and the spits — the human statues — that dot London. Joined in his adventure by the acerbic Edie — a young girl who can see the past — and the Gunner — a statue of a WWI veteran, George races to make right the damage he has done before he becomes a permanent casualty in the war between the spits and the taints.
I listened to this as an audio book on my daily commute. The Scholastic production has Jim Dale (who read the Harry Potter books) narrating, so with teenagers running around London getting chased by monsters that the normal world can’t see, I kept expecting Harry, Ron, and Hermione to show up. However, the similarities are actually closer to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, with familiar London turning into a nightmare. Fletcher works the actual statues of London into his story, with the Black Friar, the sphinxes from Cleopatra’s Needle, and the dragon at Temple Bar all featuring prominently.
Stoneheart shines in the interactions between George and Edie and the various spits and weirded ones around town. Unfortunately, most of the story is spent with the two running for their lives, pursued by various taints. Their main source of knowledge, the Gunner, refuses to answer many of their questions, which I found irritating. It seemed like a fake way of building tension, when so many of the problems the children face could have been avoided if someone had just given them some advice at the beginning of the story. The nearly incessant chase scenes keep the relationships from fully developing, and turn this book into a setup for the rest of the trilogy.
The weirdly anti-climactic last chapter basically throws out everything that happened up until this point, and starts the adventure over again.
Still, this is an entertaining book for young adult readers. Some of the content is a little mature for younger readers, but for about 12 year olds and up, Stoneheart will be an interesting adventure.